As the COVID-19 pandemic began to recede early in summer 2021, employers around the country started to firm up their plans for a return to the office after over a year of large-scale remote work. While the emergence of the Delta variant has paused or delayed many of those plans, a significant number of employers remain committed to bringing staff back to the office once it’s safe to do so.
Employees Largely Averse to Returning to the Office
In an article for BBC Worklife, Josie Cox relays the story of a French bank employee named Marie who chose to quit rather than return to the office when her employer announced plans to end its COVID-19-fueled shift to companywide remote work. Cox writes that Marie’s story is characteristic of a growing trend among employees unwilling to return to the office after over a year working remotely.
Despite the vaccine providing some measure of safety, the Delta variant has driven new concerns about the potential impact of the virus. Even absent those concerns, of course, employees’ needs and preferences have changed over the past several months, as they’ve experienced new flexibility and a better work/life balance in most cases. News reports are increasingly indicating that many employees are hesitant to return to the physical workplace. In fact, if pressed, many may choose to quit rather than give up their newfound freedom.
A Shift in Power
Cox writes, “This trend has gathered so much momentum that academics are now speaking of a fundamental shift in power dynamics away from employers and toward workers. If businesses want to retain the loyal talent they need to stay competitive, experts argue they must listen to the needs of the labour market and adapt quickly.”
Faced with this widespread sentiment, employers need to carefully and honestly evaluate the need to bring staff back to the office, both on an organizational level and on an individual employee level. Companies that stick to their plans to shift back to on-site work should determine in advance what level of flexibility they are willing to consider if faced with employees like Marie.